About the concrete; no metaphor (no transformation), no transcendence (no abstraction), and no representation (only presentation).
— Ellsworth Kelly

For this first semester, FS19, we will work with GYPSUM, as part of our six-year MATERIAL GESTURE research and design. Our starting point is a geological understanding of the mining of our source material and the consequent irreversible changing of the environment.

Geology has its own entropy. Everything is gradually wearing down, as we can see in the beautiful Karst landscapes where gypsum is naturally dissolving. However, by mining our building materials, we change our environment in a very different way with open mining, quarries, and their related infrastructure. In order to build, we mine. Therefore we work in parallel on two sides: the sourcing of our material and its use in construction.

Gypsum is widely used in architecture, either as part of the process of making architecture, or in constructing architecture itself, such as the mass production of plaster, gypsum board and building blocks. Gypsum has been used since the time of the ancient Egyptians as a painted plaster finish inside the pyramids and as a structural material for the mortar in between the large stone blocks. Some researchers believe that it was even used as a complete structural material by casting the building blocks themselves in gypsum.

As a prototyping material, gypsum is used for model making: think of Vincent de Rijk’s famous positive and negative cast models of the Très Grandes Bibliotheque for OMA, or the recent Incidental Space by Christian Kerez for the Venice Architecture Biennial, for which he started by casting amorphous substances in gypsum as a way of spatial form-finding.

Gypsum is used as a casting material for ceramics, glass, bronze or aluminium. In addition to its applications in architecture, gypsum is widely used as an additive in the food industry, and as fertilizer in agriculture. At ETH Zürich, several research projects have been conducted by a number of different departments that involve gypsum as their main subject, or where gypsum is as an important material used to support laboratory experiments.

When we take all aspects of the material into consideration – the geology, the mining, the different properties, the craftsmanship, the specialised techniques, and the cultural significance – we can deploy the full potential of the inherent qualities of the material itself and our way of working it in what we call MATERIAL GESTURE.

We will define our gestures of making and working with material(s) in which gypsum is a key element in order to produce an architecture where the reality of the work lays within the materiality, the space, and the act of making. The architecture that results from this approach does not reference or represent something, but simply attempts to exist as a physical reality.

Richard Serra’s VERB list is a beautifully rich summary of all manipulations and all gestures that we can apply to matter. He created this list while he was making one of his most fascinating works in which he cast the corners of an exhibition space by throwing liquid lead in it – to splash. The final form resulted from a process of making.